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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 44-55

Chapters 35-43

Chapters 56-72

Summary

The Crosbys informed John that the State Department once fired Horlick for not taking a hard line against Communism. John returned to his seat and asked about the firing. Claire explained that Horlick was fired because she wrote a letter from Pakistan to the New York Times expressing dismay that Americans simply couldn't imagine being anything other than American. She wrote that Americans were engaged in a futile search for kinds of love that didn't exist. Unfortunately, this letter was published at the height of McCarthyism. She had committed a grave offence in implying that Americans were not universally adored regardless of their actions.

The Mintons gave John a manuscript of San Lorenzo: The Land, the History, the People, a book by Philip Castle that was not yet published. From Philip's book, John learned that Bokonon was born to a wealthy Episcopalian black family on the island of Tobago as Lionel Boyd Johnson. He attended the London School of Economics and Political Science until he enlisted as a soldier in World War I. After he was discharged, he traveled all over the world. In 1922, Edward McCabe, a deserter from the U.S. Marines, paid Bokonon to sail him to Miami, but they shipwrecked on San Lorenzo where Johnson was re-named as "Bokonon," the pronunciation of "Johnson" in San Lorenzo's English dialect. Bokonon's broken ship was painted gold and used as a bed by the island's president. Bokonon prophesied that the ship would sail again at the end of the world.

Hazel interrupted John's reading to inform him that two other Hoosiers, Angela and Newt Hoenikker, were on the plane to San Lorenzo. John reports bitterly that they were transporting their personal stash of ice-nine on the plane, though he did not know that then. Angela apologized for not writing John to describe the day the atomic bomb fell. Asa instructed her not to help John with his book because Asa believed John meant to portray Felix unfavorably. She explained that she and Newt were traveling to San Lorenzo to celebrate Frank's engagement to Mona, with whom John was madly in love. When Angela shared her collection of photographs with John, he was astonished to see that her husband, Harrison C. Conners, was so handsome. After working as Felix's lab assistant, Harrison became president of Fabri-tek, a company involved with top secret weapons research. He visited her after Felix's death to discuss her father's last days, and two weeks later, they were married.

During World War II, Mona's biological father, a Finnish architect named Nestor Aamons, suffered a series of captures by different warring factions until he escaped to Portugal. There, he met the American draft-dodger, Julian Castle. At Julian's invitation, Nestor traveled to San Lorenzo to design Julian's charity hospital; there, Nestor married a native woman. He died shortly after fathering Mona.

The index to Philip's book contained as many references to Mona as it did to her adoptive father. Monzano adopted her in order to improve his popularity, which he did by using her beauty to turn her into a national symbol. She grew up in the compound of Julian's hospital and had a childhood romance with Philip, to whom she was briefly engaged. Bokonon was tutor to both Philip and Mona in their childhood. Embarrassed at her status as a national erotic symbol, Mona tried to make herself ugly. Claire interrupted John's reading to state that people should not index their own books because they inadvertently reveal things about themselves. From Philip's index, she could tell that he was insecure and had ambivalent feelings about his father. She could also tell that he was in love with Mona, but he would never marry her because he was a homosexual.

Commentary

Vonnegut reveals the dangers of dogmatism in the persecution Horlick suffered at the hands of the U.S. government. After World War II, The United States emerged as a major world power. Vonnegut portrays the America of that time as priding itself on its role as one of the "good guys." Vonnegut's vision of America was of a country that believed it was the best at everything and took offense at any criticism. With nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the United States became arrogant in its power and demanded a certain conformity among its own citizens. It also assumed that the entire world wanted to be like Americans.

Vonnegut's vision of the United States reveals a country that, in some instances, could act like a totalitarian state, particularly during the rabid anti-communism of McCarthyism. Vonnegut portrays this rise of dogmatism as yet another dangerous element to the irrational grouping behavior of human beings. It is worth noting, however, that while Vonnegut's portrayal of the United States certainly has merit and basis in fact, the United States that appears in Cat's Cradle is significantly simplified from that of actual history.

Angela was extremely indifferent to the ramifications of her father's research. She considered the day Hiroshima was bombed the same as any other day in that her father paid the same lack of attention to her as he usually did, completely ignoring the mass death and destruction caused by the bomb. In order to cope with her father's indifference toward her, she deluded herself into thinking he was a saint. She guarded his reputation with an almost religious devotion because she didn't want to see him for what he was--an irresponsible, conscienceless, indifferent man. Newt and Angela continued their father's tradition of irresponsibility by carrying ice-nine on the plane, just as Frank took ice-nine on the boat to San Lorenzo. A shipwreck or a plane crash could have released the ice-nine into the ocean, creating a global disaster.

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Incorrect information

by SuperBobKing, August 29, 2012

Ice-nine isn't an isotope of water. An isotope is an element with a different number of protons, and water is not an element and the water molecules are not altered. Ice-nine was just water in solid state only the molecules were put together differently than normal ice, which caused it to have a higher melting point.

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29 out of 56 people found this helpful

Incorrect Name

by tapmaster88, October 02, 2013

The name of Asa Breed's brother is not Martin, it is Marvin. Check Chapter 31.

Something I thought was interesting...

by possibly_troodon, March 28, 2014

It seems like almost every aspect of science has an opposite in religion and vice versa. Science is a search for truth, and Bokononism is nothing but "foma." Likewise, the scientific documents are completely incomprehensible to the secretaries in the Research Laboratory who transcribe them, and Bokononism is the one real comfort to the people of San Lorenzo.

I especially like how the contrast stands out in the characters of Felix Hoenikker and Bokonon. Felix is typically described as "innocent," yet his inventions, the atom bomb and i... Read more

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18 out of 19 people found this helpful

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